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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Alcohol, drug abuse by students is down, survey says

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A state survey released yesterday indicates drug and alcohol abuse rates among Hawai'i's students have fallen, except for use of Ecstasy, which is commonly associated with nightclubs and underground rave parties.

The study surveyed 25,860 public and private school students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades. On the basis of the nonscientific survey, the state Department of Health estimates that more than 14,000 public and private school students statewide in Grades 6 through 12 need treatment to cope with alcohol or drugs or both — down from an estimate of 16,800 students in 1998, the last year the state surveyed students.

State Health Department Director Bruce Anderson said while the decline is good news, the number of students who still need treatment is "staggering."

"I'd like to think that some of our treatment and prevention programs are making a difference here and I think they have ... ," he said. "We are, though, continuing to be very concerned about the number of people who are abusing substances and are in need of treatment. ... We do need to focus on those who are continuing to have problems."

The study said while the state does have effective residential, outpatient and school-based treatment programs for adolescents, less than 15 percent of the students identified in the study as having a substance abuse problem have participated in such a program.

It also showed that alcohol use declined and that drug use decreased or stabilized for all substances except for Ecstasy. The use of Ecstasy increased among 10th- and 12th-graders.

Overall drug use among Hawai'i students is generally lower than the national average, although the percentage of Hawai'i students who said they drank alcohol on at least 20 of the past 30 days is higher than national rates. Cigarette use reached an "all-time low," health officials said. Still, nearly half of the seniors surveyed have tried marijuana at least once, and 53 percent of them said they have been drunk.

The study also shows drug treatment needs for students in Grades 6 through 12 are highest in Hawai'i County, where 20 percent of the students are estimated to have a substance abuse problem.

The decline in drug use among students reflects downward trends in other areas such as violent juvenile delinquency, said Tony Pfaltzgraff, executive director of the Kalihi YMCA, which operates 12 student drug treatment programs on O'ahu.

"Adolescents as a group seem to be engaging less in the more destructive behaviors," he said. Pfaltzgraff also said the availability of drug treatment services and community acceptance of such programs has increased over the last few years and he credited the Health Department with raising the level of treatment programs.

"In many cases, a teenager who is using substances in a way that is causing problems has access to services in many parts of this state and in many parts of O'ahu," he said.

The Health Department is holding public informational meetings about a federally financed grant program to provide substance abuse prevention services for young people. The federal government recently awarded the state $8.4 million for a State Incentive Grant Program that will pay for 18 local community partnerships implementing youth drug prevention services.

"Certainly all communities need to make prevention a priority," Anderson said. "Substance abuse is a significant public health problem, one that we all need to focus on."